Water depth selection, daily feeding routines and diets of waterbirds in coastal lagoons in Ghana

Yaa Ntiamoa-Baidu, Theunis Piersma, Popko Wiersma, Martin Poot*, Phil Battley, Chris Gordon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

135 Citations (Scopus)


Water depth requirements, diet, feeding styles and diurnal activity patterns are described for waterbirds using two brackish water lagoon systems in coastal Ghana, the Songor and Keta Lagoons. We project the habitat and activity data on a guild structure defined on the basis of individual feeding style and the sensory mechanism used to detect food. A total of 3199 flocks containing 118,648 individuals of 36 different waterbird species were examined during October-November 1994. Feeding habitats varied from dry mudflats to wet mud and shallow water of not more than 20 cm. The depth of water selected by waterbirds for foraging (but not for roosting) was correlated with tarsus length. Foraging birds exhibited a wide range of feeding styles using visual and/or tactile means for detecting prey: pecking, probing, stabbing, sweeping and ploughing, sometimes feeding singly, communally or socially in loose or dense flocks. Prey items taken ranged from seeds of Widgeongrass Ruppia maritima to invertebrates (mainly polychaetes, molluscs and crabs) and fish, mainly juvenile Tilapia. The daytime was spent on two main activities, feeding and roosting, with a small fraction of the time (average of 10% for 25 species) spent on comfort activities. The waterbirds exhibited either a circadian (most waders, except Common Sandpipers Actitis hypoleucos and Turnstones Arenaria interpres) or a diurnal foraging activity pattern (herons and terns), with no purely nocturnal species. Some species fed throughout the day, others showed peak foraging at various times of the day. The proportion of time spent foraging was related to guild (highest in visual and tactile surface-foraging waders) and was negatively correlated with the size of the species. We conclude that the observed patterns in the use of the 24-h day by waterbirds for foraging are not species specific but vary depending on conditions on the feeding grounds. Nocturnal foraging is a normal and a regular strategy used by waterbirds to obtain enough food to fulfill their energetic requirements, so that irrespective of the sensory mechanism used to detect prey and the conditions prevailing on the feeding grounds, waterbirds forage day and night as dictated by their energetic needs. Water depth appears to be the key environmental factor controlling the availability of food for the waterbirds in the Ghanaian lagoons.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-103
Number of pages15
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1998
Externally publishedYes


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